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Benjamin Cole Favorites - Page 2

Cole will endeavor to review every film he watches from "Jimbo Theatre," for the good, the bad, and the fun---and most movies are fun.

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Frank Borzage's Moonrise - 1948

MoonriseYes, that is the title, at least in the opening credits.

Borzage is the director, and this film is very and obviously directed, as in shot entirely indoors on sets, with lots of controlled, and pretty good B/W photography. The opening sequences are dreamy and disturbing.

The story concerns a youth in a Southern town, whose father committed murder, and who is taunted and bullied growing up as a result.

As a young adult, the lead actor Dane Clark defends himself against a lifelong antagonist in a fight, grabbing a rock from---yes, from taunter Lloyd Bridges (Sea Hunt), though you never see his face---with which he then pummels Bridges to death. Charming.

Then Clark hides the body, while wooing a pleasant and intelligent schoolteacher in a similarly uncouth manner. And he is unemployed.

The schoolteacher (Gail Russell) falls for Clark, nearly inexplicably. The film flops on this score---even a scene or two explaining they grew up together, and she always loved him, might have made sense. Instead, we are to believe she suddenly falls in love with an unemployed lout, given to insane and really, really stupid driving practices.

My guess is that Director Bozage was trying for something Faulknerian, but the film skids way off the mark. Officially, the film is based on the book Moonrise, by Theodore Strauss.

Borzage was a name director in Hollywood, known for such early films as Street Angel and 7th Heaven.

This film is interesting if heavily flawed, for the social mores presented, and for the stagey sets. For example, it is unclear if Dane Clark seduces the schoolteacher in an abandoned antebellum mansion (in which all the furnishings from decades past are unmolested).

For those doing a review of Borzage films, Moonrise will be a fun 90 minutes---but hard to take seriously.

PS. In addition to Lloyd Bridges, Harry Morgan (Dragnet, Mash) gets a role. --30--

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Hometown Story - 1951

Hometown StoryA historical oddity this film is, worth watching on that score if not for the actual plot, direction and acting.

Film buffs will enjoy an early pre-star appearance of Marilyn Monroe, here in a minor role, and with hair that looks to be copper-colored, although this is a b/w effort. And who won't enjoy seeing a youthful Alan Hale Jr., not as Skipper on the evidently unforgettable TV serial Gilligan's Island, but as a very pipe-smoking newsman?

Some of Hometown Story's scenes are lugubrious, so hot-headed is the protagonist (actor Jeffrey Lynn), who has, incidentally, and with flimsy excuses, not married his sweetheart for seven years. Really, she has been waiting for seven years? For some reason, a point of that is made in this movie.

Also, the leading man still lives at home, with a kid sister---although actor Lynn looks at least in his 30s, and deeply so, and has a sister who in single digits. Father is absent, unexplained.

Lynn takes over a family newspaper, and launches an anti-big business crusade.

The kid sister get trapped in a mine, and big business people save her life through heroic efforts. Reportedly, this slip of a film---it is 61 minutes---was backed by GM to "promote the interests of big business." One fears even junior-high school students would snort at the production

This sophomoric effort today is a hoot, and look for those Ford Tri-Motor airplanes in an early scene. Interesting trucks and bulldozers too.

An off-beat time-capsule of a film. --30--

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One Million B.C. - 1940

One Million B.C.You have to love the opening of this movie, which appears to be a hiking party in the Bavarian Alps. The men wear hiking hats with feathers, embroidered jackets, lederhosen and…ties!

So, in a storm the well-appointed hikers seek refuge in a cave, and there find a man studying cave-wall pictographs. And the scholar then tells the hiking party the incredibly detailed story that the few crude pictographs depict.

Which brings us to cave-man Vic Mature and cutie-cave girl Carole Landis.

This film was popular in release for its special effects, which include a armadillo with horns, enlarged lizards dressed up as dinosaurs, and a circus elephant in drag as a "mastodon." Yes, not a mammoth. Don't even talk science, btw. Mature belongs to a tribe of brutish men so clueless they sometimes hunt large powerful animals not only barehanded but singlehanded, and not just ceremonially. They get injured doing so. Duh. Really, how did Mature's tribe not go extinct?

But Mature meets Landis, who belongs to a smarter tribe, plus she is cute.
The film has a plot, but in a parallel to modern-day special-effects-driven movies, the plot is wanting. The story is a couple morality tales, with some boy-meets-girl, and then a bunch of hazards in a row.

Probably alone, I want to see more of opening scenes-hiking party, perhaps at the conclusion of the film, to sum up and review, and show us their wonderful outfits again. But no.

Still, you can't help but enjoy One Million B.C., which came out of Hal Roach Studios. However, you may wish to knock back a couple of highballs before you watch this one. --30--

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Son of Ingagi - 1940

Son of IngagiThis is a remarkable period film, usually billed as a "sci-fi horror," but I think better described as a "monster movie"---with a twist. This is a "race film," evidently shot for black audiences and featuring only black actors, by the Dallas (yes, I said Dallas, as in Texas)-based Sack Amusement Enterprises.

No clue where the film was made, but there are brief shots of what sure looks like Los Angeles. The rest is set shots.

This film was based on a screenplay by Spencer Williams, who also plays a detective in the movie, and excels in the comedic role. Williams has obtained a bit of cult status for his film The Blood of Jesus, highly regarded and one of those films lost and then found.

There is a guest musical appearance by the Toppers, with a couple of charming songs.

Except for some clever humorous wrinkles, in truth this is a monster movie little better or worse than dozens of others. If you like period monster movies, this is fine fare.

For a modern-day viewer, the Son of Ingagi is the curious presentation of black actors pursuing, speaking, dressing and acting in roles nearly indistinguishable from those found in any period "white" monster movie.

An interesting bit of film history. --30--

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The Straw Man - 1953

The Straw ManCompetently made b/w Brit murder-thriller. Check out the automobiles in the opening scenes, wonderful as can be, and the double-decker bus. Note the grand cylindrical street post office mailbox used by the older woman, who will play a role in the film later.

A veteran insurance investigator, Jeff Howard played by Cliff Evans, is assigned to determine if a covered life is in fact a murderer, as evidence suggests. The insurance company will have to pay up, if the purported murderer is hanged.

Actor Evans is the film's highlight, believably and very likably playing the role of a wily insurance investigator---indeed, the film would have been much enhanced if another few scenes were expended to give us a feeling for who is Evans, his history, his triumphs and losses in life. Maybe a family man, or a jilted husband, a recovered alcoholic, a war vet background, etc., would have added texture. But we see almost nothing beyond his working role.

Actor Dermott Walsh is the bad guy, and acquits himself well enough, with great clothes and streak of grey in his pompadour.

The film attempts to end in high drama, but Evans is facing away from the camera---yet he is the only role with which the viewer can have any affinity.

For Brit fans and murder fans, a nice little movie---yet one one feels the film could have been much better, if it had only taken advantage of actor Evans. --30--

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The First Spaceship on Venus - 1960

First Spaceship on VenusAnother film that is great fun to watch, not perhaps on its merits, but as a window into the 1950-60s--not "our" 1950-60s in the U.S., but how it was presented from behind the Iron Curtain.

The is an East German-Polish production, relentlessly international in its cast, as it purports to be a space mission after the world has globalized, and sidestepped a nuclear holocaust. Getting nuked was a big topic in those days, given the U.S. and USSR promising radioactive winters for all on frequent occasion.

The highlight of the trans-national space crew is Yoko Tani, in "real life" a onetime Japanese strip-dancer and reputed French nightclub habitué. In one scene we see her look sad when the horrors of nuclear war are discussed---a reminder of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, although evidently explicit references to those bombings were edited out of the U.S version of this film. The U.S. version was mercifully cut down to 79 minutes from the original 93, but still the plot stalls, sags and skips.

Some effects are so amateurish as to be laughable, and yet the primary set, the inside of the spaceship, looks very Euro-future cool and professional. I am not sure why little bobbing metallic men in an unimproved cave, found on Venus, are then said to make up a "library" in which information is recorded. Is this some sort of human cry against Iron Curtain oppression?

Other scenes, such as the rocket ship unintentionally blasting off from Venus leaving the waving African crewman marooned, are so poorly executed as to be risible.

Maybe it was commie propaganda, but it was pleasant to hear actors talking about how humans avoided a war, and the US is not presented as "bad guys." About this time, the U.S. was making films like Invasion USA, in which the Russkies drop A-bombs on the U.S. in a sneak attack-occupation.

The final scenes are lugubrious, a mixture of men in really stupid-looking clothes, and old-fashioned Eastern European heroic angles and lighting.

Yet despite the innumerable flaws, the film becomes haunting, a reminder of when people thought the future could be better, and wars a thing of the past, and science ruled. The beautiful Yoko Tani beings back the "exotic" Oriental days.

The world was so fearful in 1960, only 15 years after Hiroshima, and perhaps more nukes on the way. And yet the world was also so young and optimistic--see it all in The First Spaceship On Venus. --30--

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21 Days - 1940

21 DaysWell, the big stars you have, with Vivien Leigh (Wanda Wallen) and Laurence Olivier (Larry Durant), as lovers in this competent Brit b/w tale about murder, consequences and honor. Larry Banks is on board too.

Olivier's first few scenes are laughable by today's standards; he is impossibly chipper and gay, to the point of looking slightly addled. Great clothes for everyone. Worth noting is that this was actually shot in 1937, and has a 1930s-ish feel about it.

As with so many mid-century Brit films, we find the lead character Larry Durant is living on "an income," but a modest income, although from a good family. Perhaps having incomes makes plots easier to develop---after all, working all day is hardly the stuff of movies. Or did the Brit public believe only the travails of the betters were worth telling?

Anyhow, Durant and Wallen find her estranged husband in her apartment, and the old lowlife hubbie insultingly suggests payment for his wife's services, and flashes a knife. Oliver fights with and kills the estranged husband, and then dumps the body in a nearby ally---though self-defense seems like a reasonable claim.

Fair enough, but then a nice homeless man is charged with the murder, and a hanging is slated. Making matters worse is that loverboy Larry Durant's brother (played by Larry Banks) is a well-regarded lawyer aiming for a judgeship. A public family dishonoring would harpoon the long-sought chance at robes.

Still, our hero must 'fess up. It is honor.

All in all, a good show if sometimes maudlin, and a nice view of British sensibilities those many years ago. --30--

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Johnny Nobody-1961

Johnny NobodyThis is a forgotten minor classic, hiding in the many stacks of reels that make up Jimbo Theatre.

Who will not love the opening scenes of a church-centric Irish town where the post office employee delivers mail by bicycle, and stops in the village pub for a tipple mid-route? James Mulcahy (William Bendix) emerges, a loud devout atheist and author, sneering at God and wreaking havoc---until he is shot dead in the middle of a village rhubarb.

Johnny Nobody (Aldo Ray) did the gun-work, and professes to not know his own name or how he came to be. The village says it was a miracle.

The local priest, Father Carey (Nigel Patrick, also the director) begins his own investigation, not only into Johnny Nobody, but also inevitably into own beliefs--would God sanction such an act? (He drives a great car, btw).

The scenes in the Dublin courtroom are worth the price of admission, what an elaborate wood-panelled chamber it us, graced by the bewigged defense lawyer Niall McGinnis, peerless in this role.

In his investigations, the Father Carey drives into the countryside, where a humorous scene is shot at an out-of-season racetrack with a caretaker. "Aye, you've never spoken a truer word," retorts the un-deferential trackie, in response to a perhaps trite statement by Father Carey. (If you are fan of the Irish, this film is a must-see.)

This film received so-so reviews from The New York Times in 1961, and that is perhaps understandable. The New Yorker of 1961 was aching to be free of religious constraints and dogma, not reminded of the glories of the Roman Catholic church.

But today we are free to examine the film as a period piece, a view into Irish life in the waning days of a still unmodernized church-centric society, and for that this film is priceless. It has a fine twisting plot, lots of good dialogue and acting, and yes is a bit schmaltzy (blarneyish?) here and there.

Only the ending is perhaps overdone, and one could wish for a more vexing finale. I hope everyone enjoys this film as much as I did. --30--

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Decameron Nights-1953

Decameron NightsBased on the classic short story collection of sex and love romps by author Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), this serviceable movie stays well within 1950-era morals, playing up the comedy in the Italian writer's tales more than the eros.

Joan Fontaine is the not very Italian-looking lead female, sought after in great length by Louis Jourdan. Three stories are told, shot in color btw, and all are fun, although the comedy sometimes is as flat as a pancake.

This may be more of a women's movie, given the ardent and persistent pursuit of Fontaine by Jourdan, and the considerations of love from many angles. Young Joan Collins makes an appearance, and is very attractive.

Even feminists might approve of the final tale, in which a woman doctor, summoned by the king in an emergency, falls in love with her handsome young escort. After the doctor's service to the king, the king asks what is her payment, and she asks that the handsome escort marry her. The escort is forced into matrimony, but he vows not to consummate the marriage. However, the doctor outfoxes the escort-husband, luring him to her boudoir under guise of sorts. A baby results, and a happy ending.

This is one of those light 1950s power-puff movies, in which the real world is banished entirely, concerns are entirely familial and parochial, and there are no truly bad guys.

Maybe 1950s audiences needed escape from the Cold War and possible nuclear annihilation, the still-recent horrors of WWII. Who can blame them? --30--

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The Transatlantic Tunnel - 1935

The Transatlantic TunnelA simply wonderful period piece, you will find yourself variously enthralled, bewildered and laughing at this early Brit sci-fi flick, although it is really more of a futurism film. No Martians or outer space theatrics, but a dreamy tunnel builder. Some of it pre-figures The Fountainhead, the Ayn Rand adaptation. Rand probably watched this film for clues.

Highlights of The Transatlantic Tunnel include a bull session of Daddy Warbucks comic characters, who decide to finance the construction of a undersea tunnel after listening to a private, live orchestra and downing highballs. You know, with all the gravity of adding a wing to the house. This may be naiveté on the part of film-makers, but it fun to see a gigantic capital project funded by a group of five wealthy socialites and perhaps a ne'er-do-well, including a gushy matron.

The tunnel scenes are amazing, and involve a large cast of extras. Very realistic, within context. The futuristic streamline-moderne autos are great visuals, but so brief! What appears to be a helicopter flies from London the New York City, and people communicate by television monitors. Really cool, all of it.

The romantic subplot is laughable on multiple levels, and the family drama mawkish and maudlin--very British!

The idea that the Transatlantic tunnel will unify the "English-speaking peoples" and prevent wars is much touted in the film, even by the U.S. President and the UK Prime Minister, and mysterious. Like many interwar Brit films, armament manufacturers are vilified. It is remarkable in some eras how much people resented military expenditures. In one scene, President Eisenhower's 1960 Farewell Speech comes to mind.

BTW, if you wonder why there used to be labor unions, check out how in this film it is noted in passing that hundreds of miners died in the construction of the tunnel. Forgotten today is that 96 people died in the construction of Hoover Dam, a smaller project than that depicted in the film. Death was accepted on major construction projects.

All in all, The Transatlantic Tunnel a terrific excursion into the past and the future. --30--

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Man From Headquarters - 1942

Man From HeadquartersIf you are in the mood for something light, this comedy-drama from 1942 might fill the bill. Be forewarned, this is a B-movie, even by B-movie standards. One suspects most scenes were shot once, and that the "script" was written between shoots.

Suspension of disbelief is required in spades, as reporter Larry Doyle (Frank Albertson) finds himself penniless and fired in a strange city. He immediately hooks up with the prettiest girl in St. Louis, Ann (Joan Woodbury) and they go through a few capers, with the reporter instructing local cops at detection at a crime scene, and other trifles such as driving a getaway car in an ongoing robbery involving gunfire.

Stolen loot gets stashed in a hotel room, and evidently forgotten about. There are some loose ends and strings in this movie, but no more than a spaghetti bowl.

Joan Woodbury is the film's highlight, Albertson tries to make things zesty, and there is a droll hotel manager worth a chuckle. Mostly fun to watch for the clothes and hats, and a feel for how city newspapers used to operate, in the glory days before television (let alone the Internet).

A gambling den named the "The 13 Club" gets a rise--and was gambling legal back then? Seems like it, from the movie, but maybe that is part of the humor. Forgotten today is how "wide open" Kansas City and St. Louis were pre-1950s.

Pre-war, were dining establishments in KC in which the use of saran-wrap would make today's Hooters seem tame--but not shown in this movie! --30--

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Terror By Night -1946

Terror by NightBasil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are back as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, for the 13th time in this remarkable series of 14 films, produced rapid-fire from 1939 to 1946.

This is a "train film" in which the diamond, the "Star of Rhodesia," is being transported from London to Scotland, sure to tempt ne'er-do-wells. Look for night-scenes in which what appears to be a toy train is filmed--well, this is a B-movie. Naturally, Sherlock Holmes is aboard, and murders take place, and the diamond is stolen.

The Sherlock Holmes movies were probably produced with less resources than a modern weekly TV serial, and one could nit-pit dubious plot-lines or the surprisingly rare artless scenes. Still, Rathbone and Bruce remain enduring and endearing figures of celluloid, and it is difficult to think of a rival series of films that stand up as well, or a more likable pair of crime-fighters.

This film is next to the last of the series, and some of the sentimentality of earlier Holmes movies seems to have been hard-boiled out. There is comedy in the film, and dead bodies. Like many other films shot in and after WWII, people die easily and are forgotten even more quickly.

But at barely an hour, a fun respite, and a worthwhile reprise of the peerless Rathbone-Bruce duo. --30--

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The Woman in Green-1945

The Woman in GreenIf you are from a certain generation, Basil Rathbone is Sherlock Holmes, perhaps from watching late night black-and-white TV as a youth in Los Angeles. And yes, Dr. Watson is Nigel Bruce. When later in life as an adult I read the collected works of Conan Doyle, it was Basil Rathbone I saw in the novels, and he actually fits the limited descriptions of Sherlock Holmes rather well.

You can be forgiven is you think this film is a Brit production, what with Brits Rathbone and Bruce, and UK-cenric director Roy Neill, and set in 1940s London. The film even has the lovable mawkish, maudlin traits of 1940s Brit productions, but it was shot by Universal Pictures, and I assume in the U.S. It is one of 14 Sherlock Holmes films shot, by Fox and then Universal, all starring Rathbone/Bruce.

The plot is wonderfully silly, and presupposes a "criminal genius" who concocts a scheme of blackmailing wealthy gents by placing fingers of murdered women in their pockets. Surely, compromising photos of married men would be tons easier, or financial shenanigans, and would not result in dragnets.

But the horrid crimes do get Holmes into action, though he detects damn few clues, and instead gets lucky breaks, and makes unsupported assumptions that pan out. The fearsome Dr. Moriarty is disposed of, and not too well. Based on this film, Moriarty had all the cunning of Dr. Watson.

Still, it just plain fun to watch the duo of Rathbone and Bruce in play, the film is barely an hour long, and the femme fatale Hillary Brooke when her hair is down is another post-war Brit beauty.

The concluding scene, in which Holmes thoughtfully rhapsodizes it is his "privilege" to watch over the citizens of London is a gem, and a sad reminder of a time when Brits, and perhaps Americans, felt a greater affinity for fellow citizens.

Well worth watching. --30--

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